Dhammakaya Movement

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For the Dhammakaya temple in Patumthani, see Wat Phra Dhammakaya.

The Dhammakaya Movement, Dhammakaya tradition or Vijja Dhammakaya is a Thai Buddhist tradition which was started by Luang Pu Sodh Candasaro in the early 20th century,[1] is connected to several temples which refer back to Wat Paknam Bhasicharoen in Bangkok for their ancestry. The movement practices Dhammakaya meditation, a form of meditation which scholars have linked to the Yogavacara tradition. Central to the movement is the idea that Dhammakaya meditation was the method through which the Buddha became enlightened, a method which was forgotten but has been revived by Luang Pu Sodh Candasaro.


Scholars have theorized that The Dhammakaya movement has its roots in the Yogavacara tradition (also known as tantric Theravada).[2][3][4] It was started by Luang Pu Sodh Candasaro in the early twentieth century.[1] The movement is connected to several temples which refer back to Wat Paknam Bhasicharoen in Bangkok for their ancestry. Luang Por Dhammajayo and Luang Por Dattajivo, the current abbot and vice-abbot of Wat Phra Dhammakaya, were students of Maechi (nun) Chandra Khonnokyoong. She in turn was a student of Luang Pu Sodh Candasaro, the meditation master who developed Dhammakaya meditation and the abbot of Wat Paknam. Other temples, such as Wat Luang Phor Sodh Dhammakayaram, also have their roots in Wat Paknam.[5] After discovering the Dhammakaya meditation approach, Luang Pu Sodh first taught it to others at Wat Bangpla, Bang Len District, Nakhon Pathom.[6] When Luang Pu Sodh was given his first position as abbot at Wat Paknam, Dhammakaya meditation has been associated with this temple ever since. Since 1959, Dhammakaya meditation has been taught by Luang Pu Sodh's students at Wat Paknam Bhasicharoen, Wat Phra Dhammakaya and Wat Luang Por Sod Dhammakayaram in Amphoe Damnoen Saduak District, Ratchaburi Province, as well as at Wat Rajorasaram in Bang Khun Thian District, Thonburi.


Newell has pointed out that the term Dhammakaya Movement is problematic, because it has been used "without distinguishing between the various temples practising dhammakaya meditation and Wat Dhammakaya [sic] itself. (...) There are considerable differences in style, practice and structure of all the temples". She prefers to use the term Dhammakaya temples.[7] She is quoted on this by McDaniel, but he nevertheless uses Dhammakaya Movement.[8] Crosby, on the other hand, uses Dhammakaya network.[9] Thus, scholars have often pointed out the differences and even some dissension among the temples,[10][11][12] but it has also been noted that the relation with Somdet Chuang Varapunno and Wat Phra Dhammakaya has been a good one.[13]

Somdet Chuang Varapunno from Wat Paknam Bhasicharoen presiding over a ceremony.

Wat Paknam Bhasicharoen[edit]

Wat Paknam Bhasicharoen (Thai: วัดปากน้ำภาษีเจริญ) is a royal wat located in Phasi Charoen district, Bangkok, at the Chao Phraya River.[14] Wat Paknam Bhasicharoen is the temple where Luang Pu Sodh Candasaro used to be the abbot, and still is known for its meditation lessons.[1][15] The temple underwent a major change during the period that Luang Pu Sodh Candasaro became the temple's abbot, from a temple with only thirteen monks that was abandoned, to a prosperous center of education and meditation practice. In 2008, it housed two hundred to four hundred monks, eighty to ninety samanera (young novices) and two hundred to three hundred maechis (nuns). Currently, the temple's abbot is Somdet Chuang Varapunno, the acting Supreme Patriarch (Sangharaja) of Thai Buddhism.[10]

Wat Phra Dhammakaya[edit]

Main article: Wat Phra Dhammakaya

Wat Phra Dhammakaya is located in Pathum Thani, north of Bangkok. It was founded by Maechi Chandra Khonnokyoong and Luang Por Dhammajayo. It is the temple that is most well-known in the Dhammakaya Movement because of its huge size and following, its numerous activities and also its controversies. The temple is popular among the Bangkok middle class, and organizes many training programs. The temple emphasizes merit-making through meditation, giving and volunteering.[16] As of 2007, the temple's worldwide following was estimated at one million practitioners.[17] The community living at Wat Phra Dhammakaya numbered more than a thousand monks and novices, and hundreds of full-time lay employees.[18] The temple emphasizes the revival of traditional Buddhist values, but does so through modern methods and technology.[19][20] The temple emphasizes personal transformation, expressed through its slogan "World Peace through Inner Peace".[21] The temple offers English language retreats and ordinations.[22][23][24]

Wat Luang Phor Sodh Dhammakayaram[edit]

In 1982 Luang Por Sermchai Jayamangalo and Phra Khru Bart Yanathiro established the Buddhabhavana Vijja Dhammakaya Institute,[25][26] partly in response to Wat Phra Dhammakaya.[27] Later the institute was changed into a temple. It is located in Ratchaburi Province, west of Bangkok, and is currently led by Luang Por Sermchai, who formerly was a lay meditation teacher at Wat Paknam.[28] Many of the temple's activities are done in cooperation with Wat Saket.[29] In 2006, there were seventy monks and thirty-three novices at the temple.[28] Phra Khru Bart was a western monk who organized exchange student programs and gave English language instruction. English instruction is still available, though Phra Khru Bart has now passed away.[24]


Revivalist school[edit]

Despite having been included in the controversial,[30] global Fundamentalism Project studies,[31] many scholars do not regard the movement as a fundamentalistic movement, but rather as a movement with revivalist characteristics. Whether the movement is a new movement is a matter of debate; Wat Phra Dhammakaya, for one, has specifically stated not to want to start a new fraternity (nikaya).[32] Central to the movement is the idea that Dhammakaya meditation was the method through which the Buddha became enlightened, a method which was forgotten but has been revived by Luang Pu Sodh Candasaro. This method is called Vijja Dhammakaya.[33][34][35]

Tantric Theravada[edit]

Main article: Tantric Theravada

Since the 2000s, new evidence has been brought forward though that Luang Pu Sodh's approach might originate from Yogavacara tradition (also known as tantric Theravada).[10][36][37] The Dhammakaya meditation method managed to survive modernization pressures to reform during the twentieth century C.E. and scholars have theorized that there is an ancestry to be found in common with Yogavacara.[36][38][39] It may be noted, however, that Luang Pu Sodh did prohibit magical practices at Wat Paknam, the same which are associated with the Yogavacara tradition.[40] In one biography, he is quoted as saying that magic was not part of the core of the Buddha's teaching.[41] As of 2007, there was not yet enough evidence to draw any conclusions about the relation between Yogavacara and Dhammakaya.[42]

Dhammakaya meditation and True Self[edit]

Meditation is at the most important practice of all major temples in the Dhammakaya Movement. It is Dhammakaya meditation what makes the movement stand out from other forms of Theravada Buddhism,[43][44] as the movement believes that all meditation methods lead to the attainment of the Dhammakaya, and this is the only way to Nirvana.[45] According to the Dhammakaya Movement, the Buddha made the discovery that nirvana is nothing less than the true Self'. The movement calls this true self the Dhammakaya, the spiritual essence.[46][47] The Movement believes that this essence of the Buddha and Nirvana exist as a literal reality within each individual.[48][49][50] The not-self teaching is considered the method to let go what is not the self, to attain the true self.[51]

According to Williams, in some respects the teachings of the Dhammakaya Movement resemble the Buddha-nature and Trikaya doctrines of Mahayana Buddhism. He sees the Dhammakaya Movement as having developed independently of the Mahayana tathagatagarbha tradition, but as achieving very similar results in their understanding of Buddhism.[52] According to Williams,

[Dhammakaya] meditations involve the realization, when the mind reaches its purest state, of an unconditioned "Dhamma Body" (dhammakaya) in the form of a luminous, radiant and clear Buddha figure free of all defilements and situated within the body of the practitioner. Nirvana is the true Self, and this is also the dhammakaya." [53]

The bulk of Thai Theravada Buddhism rejects this teaching and insists upon non-self as a universal fact. In particular, the Thai scholar-monk Luang Por Payutto has written much to oppose the views of the Dhammakaya Movement.[54] As against this, Luang Por Sermchai Jayamanggalo, the abbot of Wat Luang Phor Sodh Dhammakayaram, argues that it tends to be scholars who hold the view of absolute non-self, rather than Buddhist meditation practitioners. Also, only the compounded and conditioned is not-self—not nirvana. Williams summarises Luang Por Sermchai's views (here referred to by his former honorific name Phra Rajyanvisith), and adds his own comment at the end:

[Scholars] incline towards a not-Self perspective. But only scholars hold that view. By way of contrast, Phra Rajyanvisith mentions in particular the realizations of several distinguished forest hermit monks. Moreover, he argues, impermanence, suffering and not-Self go together. Anything which is not-Self is also impermanent and suffering. But, it is argued, nirvana is not suffering, nor is it impermanent. It is not possible to have something which is permanent, not suffering (i.e. is happiness) and yet for it still to be not-Self. Hence it is not not-Self either. It is thus (true, or transcendental) Self. [...] These ways of reading Buddhism in terms of a true Self certainly seem to have been congenial in the East Asian environment, and hence flourished in that context where for complex reasons Mahayana too found a ready home."[55]

Luang Por Suratecho from Wat Rajorasarama.

The Dhammakaya Movement has responded in different ways to the debate of self and not-self. Apart from Luang Por Sermchai, Wat Phra Dhammakaya's assistant-abbot Luang phi Thanavuddho wrote a book about the topic in response to critics.[56][16] Nevertheless, the movement generally seems not much interested in the discussion. Followers are more concerned how Dhammakaya meditation improves their mind.[57] Apart from the true self, the Dhammakaya Movement often uses other positive terms to describe Nirvana as well. Scott notes that the Dhammakaya Movement often explains Nirvana as being the supreme happiness, and argues that this may explain why the practice of Dhammakaya meditation is so popular.[58]

Methods of propagation[edit]

Luang Pu Sodh introduced Dhammakaya meditation, which is the core of the Dhammakaya movement. But besides the technique of meditation itself, the methods through which Luang Pu Sodh taught have also been passed on to the main temples in the movement. Teaching meditation in a group, teaching meditation during ceremonies, teaching meditation simultaneously to monastics and lay people, and teaching one main meditation method to all are features which can be found throughout the movement.[59][60][61]

Newell speculates that Luang Pu Sodh was the person who set up the mae chi community at Wat Paknam,[62] which is currently one of the largest mae chi communities in Thailand.[63] Although Luang Pu Sodh encouraged women to become mae chis, mae chis did have to spend quite some time doing domestic activities, more so than monks. This orientation echoes in Wat Phra Dhammakaya's approach to female spirituality, praising Mae Chi Chandra as an example of a meditation master, but at the same time not supporting the Bhikkhuni ordination movement.[62]

Besides Wat Paknam's attitudes with regard to female spirituality, Wat Paknam's international orientation also became part of its heritage.[64] The temple ordained several monks coming from the United Kingdom,[65] and maintained relations with Japanese Buddhists.[66] Currently, Wat Paknam has several centers outside of Thailand. This international orientation was also continued through the work of Wat Phra Dhammakaya, which, as of 2010, had thirty to fifty international centers,[67][68] and through the work of Wat Luang Phor Sodh Dhammakayaram, which has two branch centers in Malaysia.[69] Of all Thai Buddhist temples and movements, the Dhammakaya movement has an international presence that is one of the strongest.[70]

A characteristics that is also found both in Wat Paknam and other temples in Luang Pu Sodh's tradition, is its emphasis on lifelong ordination.[71]


  1. ^ a b c Sirikanchana 2010, p. 885.
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  • Crosby, Kate (2000), "Tantric Theravada: A Bibliographic Essay on the Writings of Francois Bizot and others on the Yogavacara Tradition", Contemporary Buddhism 1 (2), p. 160 
  • Fuengfusakul, Apinya (1998), ศาสนาทัศน์ของชุมชนเมืองสมัยใหม่: ศึกษากรณีวัดพระธรรมกาย [Religious Propensity of Urban Communities: A Case Study of Phra Dhammakaya Temple] (published Ph.D.), Buddhist Studies Center, Chulalongkorn University 
  • Harvey, Peter (2013), An Introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, History and Practices, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0-521-85942-4 
  • Mackenzie, Rory (2007), New Buddhist Movements in Thailand: Towards an understanding of Wat Phra Dhammakaya and Santi Asoke, Abingdon: Routledge, ISBN 0-203-96646-5 
  • McDaniel, Justin (2010), "Buddhists in Modern Southeast Asia", Religion Compass, Blackwell Publishing, 4 (11) 
  • Newell, Catherine Sarah (2008-04-01), Monks, meditation and missing links: continuity, "orthodoxy" and the vijja dhammakaya in Thai Buddhism, London: PhD diss.; Department of the Study of Religions School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London 
  • Scott, Rachelle M. (2009), Nirvana for Sale? Buddhism, Wealth, and the Dhammakāya Temple in Contemporary Thailand, Albany: State University of New York Press, ISBN 978-1-4416-2410-9 
  • Sirikanchana, Pataraporn (2010), "Dhammakaya Foundation", in Melton, J. Gordon; Baumann, Martin, Religions of the World: A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Beliefs and Practices, 2nd Edition, ABC-CLIO, pp. 885–886 
  • Swearer, Donald K. (1991), Marty, M.E.; Appleby, R.S., eds., Fundamentalistic Movements in Theravada Buddhism, Chicago & London: University of Chicago Press 
  • Taylor, J. L. (1989), "Contemporary Urban Buddhist 'Cults' and the Socio-Political Order in Thailand", Mankind, 19 (2): 112–125, doi:10.1111/j.1835-9310.1989.tb00100.x 
  • Williams, Paul (2008), Mahayana Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations (PDF) (2 ed.), Taylor & Francis e-Library., ISBN 0-203-42847-1 
  • Zehner, Edwin (1990), "Reform Symbolism of a Thai Middle-Class Sect: The Growth and Appeal of the Thammakai Movement", Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, Cambridge University Press on behalf of Department of History, National University of Singapore, 21 (2): 402–426, JSTOR 20071200 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]